The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – #35 (2022): Kenny Chesney, HARDY, Parker McCollum, and Caitlin Rose

So, if you didn’t see my announcement posted yesterday, I will be reverting this back to an infrequent series, aimed at covering whatever I want whenever the time calls for it. If you ever have any review requests, feel free to fire away. Otherwise, onward!

Kenny Chesney, “Beer With My Friends” (feat. Old Dominion)

Given the collaborators, I expected something lightweight and breezy that’d probably be pleasant but forgettable … and instead we get a fairly watered down attempt at country-rock that reminds me of a slightly slower “Living in Fast Forward,” for some reason. Content-wise, there are no surprises here – it’s mindless escapism that fits within Kenny Chesney’s wheelhouse, as do the cheap attempts at depth with references to momma and Jesus; it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be from that title. So, OK, that means the performers need to do the heavy lifting to make this really work, and while the individual verses are decent, the vocal blending in the chorus is horrendously clunky – perhaps fitting in establishing that bar-ready scene, but still not that appealing to listen through – and there’s not nearly as much fun interplay or camaraderie as I would expect there to be. It’s just sort of by-the-numbers in delivery and sound; decent, but not something I’ll likely return to.

HARDY, “Wait in the Truck” (feat. Lainey Wilson)

This will by far be the buzziest selection featured here, and given my odd track record with HARDY, I wasn’t sure what to think of this going into it. Sure, I think Lainey Wilson is pretty great and would undeniably be an asset, but HARDY ranges from excruciatingly unbearable on his worst moments (“Rednecker,” “Truck”) to surprisingly insightful when he wants to be (“One Beer,” “Give Heaven Some Hell”), and those moments have made for his biggest hits, so I wanted to give this the benefit of the doubt …

… and it’s odd – despite really loving what this could represent for the direction of mainstream country music moving forward given HARDY’s growing prominence as a writer, I’m left wanting to like it more than I do. It’s a story song willing to explore dark topics in domestic abuse and revenge in the form of murder, and I don’t think we’ve had a song this bluntly bleak try for radio airplay in a very long time. But the basic premise is that HARDY’s character finds Wilson’s character (who he apparently just met, mind you) on the side of the road beaten and battered, drives to her home to confront her abusive partner, kills him, and is sentenced to life … again, all for a woman he just met. And as nitpicky as that sounds, I will at least acknowledge that the song tries to set HARDY’s character up as something of a drifter with no clear purpose and that, while he knew what his inevitable confrontation could lead to, he probably didn’t go to the house hoping to actually kill the guy. But there’s an odd savior complex about the entire framing that I just can’t shake, either, which just reminds me of how a similar track like the Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” tackles this same theme but also manages to spotlight a broken justice system that often favors the abusers and does more with the theme.

Now, I still really like it, if only because HARDY and Wilson have surprisingly good chemistry and it’s well-produced in keeping its restraint and somber bleakness confined to a few spacious, melancholic keys and plucky acoustics and keeping the tension always at the forefront. And there is still that open question of moral ambiguity regarding whether his character was in the right or not that adds weight to the sentiment. And if this turns into a surprise hit and paves the way for more story-oriented songs to make a comeback, I’d certainly be all for it. But I don’t quite love it.

Parker McCollum, “Handle On You” (written by Monty Criswell and Parker McCollum)

I haven’t really made my distaste for Parker McCollum’s major label-released material a secret thus far,  and if there’s a reason for that, it’s because I remember how damn solid his independent material was – especially 2017’s Probably Wrong. Thankfully, however, I won’t have to be as negative with his newest single, because this is really great and is more emblematic of what I liked about his writing and sound to begin with, especially the latter, given the great interplay between the midtempo electric and acoustic grooves and well-positioned bass and pedal steel. Granted, this is a fairly straightforward post-breakup track where McCollum turns to the bottle to drown his misery, but I like the subtle nods at self-reflection where he acknowledge his own actions in leading to the end. He’s regretful, but he’s also incapable of changing, and there’s a subtle power to that conceit that can cut through (plus, “I tell myself that I should quit but I don’t listen to drunks” is a great line). A great return to form overall – I hope he continues in this direction. Boom.

Caitlin Rose, “Black Obsidian”

One regret I have (among many) from when I wrote about my favorite albums of the 2010s is that I didn’t check out Caitlin Rose’s 2013 album The Stand-In until after that series finished, because it would have handily made the cut. Granted, if her name is as new to you now as it was to me then, it’s probably because that album was, at least until this year, her latest release – a fantastic smattering of vintage country and pop with elements of soul, bolstered for me by killer tracks in “Waitin’” and “Only a Clown.”

And now, she’s finally back, and I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing that “Black Obsidian” sounds like what you’d expect from her after nearly a decade. On one hand, her approach to sound and delivery can take some getting used to, what with the echoed reverb often accenting her delivery and her often spacious, hazy mixes being hit-and-miss in how well they flatter said delivery and the content. And yet, if I had to pinpoint the real reason why this isn’t clicking further with me than I’d like, it’d probably come through in the post-breakup content feeling a bit broadly sketched and reminiscent of past similar tracks of hers in this vein that felt more fully formed and had a bit more driving punch to them than this song does, to boot (the aforementioned cuts are just a few examples). It’s still great to have her back, though, and this is a solidly decent first step to that long-awaited new album.

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